A VARIETY of bat has helped the virus responsible for the Covid-19 pandemic to evolve for decades, according to an international team of researchers.

Two Scots teams joined experts from other countries to trace back the origins of SARS-CoV-2.

And it's thought their findings could help prevent future pandemics from the same lineage.

David L Robertson, professor of computational virology at the MRC-University of Glasgow Centre for Virus Research, said the findings suggest "other viruses that are capable of infecting humans are circulating in horseshoe bats in China".

The cave-dwelling mammals eat insects and have been linked to coronaviruses for several years.

In its newly-published work the team found the lineage of viruses that SARS-CoV-2 belongs to diverged from other bat viruses from about 40 to 70 years ago.

Although SARS-CoV-2 is 96% similar to the RaTG13 coronavirus — sampled from a Rhinolophus affinis horseshoe bat in China's Yunnan province seven years ago — the team found it only diverged from that strand in 1969.

Robertson said that while it is "possible" that the endangered pangolin — the world's most trafficked mammal — may have "acted as an intermediate host" to help the virus cross to humans, "no evidence exists to suggest that pangolin infection is a requirement for bat viruses to cross into humans".

He went on: "Instead, our research suggests that SARS-CoV-2 likely evolved the ability to replicate in the upper respiratory tract of both humans and pangolins.

"The key to successful surveillance is knowing which viruses to look for and prioritising those that can readily infect humans.

"We should have been better prepared for a second SARS virus."

The findings appear in the journal Nature Microbiology with authors from institutes including Xi'an Jiaotong-Liverpool University in Suzhou, China, the University of Hong Kong, the University of Texas at Arlington, and the University of Edinburgh.

The news comes one day after the UK's first confirmed case of coronavirus in a pet cat was revealed by experts from Glasgow.

Evidence suggests it is not possible for felines to pass the virus on to humans, but that the pet was infected by its owners.

The team suggests preventing future pandemics will require better sampling within wild bats as well as human disease surveillance systems.

Maciej Boni, associate professor of biology at Penn State, warned the Covid-19 pandemic "will not be our last".

He said: "Coronaviruses have genetic material that is highly recombinant, meaning different regions of the virus's genome can be derived from multiple sources.

"This has made it difficult to reconstruct SARS-CoV-2's origins — you have to identify all the regions that have been recombining and trace their histories.

"We put together a diverse team with expertise in recombination, phylogenetic dating, virus sampling, and molecular and viral evolution."

He added: "We were too late in responding to the initial SARS-CoV-2 outbreak but this will not be our last coronavirus pandemic.

"A much more comprehensive and real-time surveillance system needs to be put in place to catch viruses like this when case numbers are still in the double digits."